Fat is Fabulous: Toney's War on the Heavyweights
By Alex Pierpaoli (October 4, 2005) 
Photo © HoganPhotos.com
In a sport with no formal season and just a handful of stars it’s always annoying when the powers-that-be end up counter-programming each other on the same night. Saturday, while light heavyweights Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones Jr. fought a strategic rubber match on HBO PPV, Showtime offered a heavyweight double-header that culminated in chest-to-chest combat for their subscribers featuring beefy bad-boy, Detroit’s James Lights-Out Toney. Where Tarver-Jones was fought with length and reach, heavyweights Toney versus Dominick Guinn was fought forehead-to-forehead, jowl-to-jowl; different styles, different fights and very different fighters.

James Toney was fighting in what would have ideally been his first title defense if not for being stripped of the WBA title soon after winning it from John Ruiz on April 30, after Toney tested positive for a banned steroid. Toney’s opponent Saturday was twice beaten contender Dominick Guinn and Toney showed that even at a career high two hundred thirty five pounds and thirty-seven years of age, he is by far the most exciting heavyweight to watch today.

Built like a pot-belly stove, former Middleweight King James Toney doesn’t move around the way one would assume a roly-poly guy with love-handles would move around. Toney is non-traditionally fat with quick hands, amazing balance and speedy footwork that gets him exactly the positioning he needs in the ring or around a buffet table. Toney throws quick angry punches that sting and slap rather than concuss. He doesn’t put guys to sleep with one shot, but if his hands are free he’s going to get you. Toney rarely throws one punch at a time with a single hand, let alone the many two-handed combinations in his arsenal.

On Saturday night he landed repeatedly with a double left hook to the belly then to the head of Guinn. Nasty right hand counters from Toney came on in sneaky waves as he leaned and shouldered Guinn into place where he could smack at him. Guinn fell right into Toney’s chest along the ropes by the end of round one and that’s precisely where Toney was most effective.

Watching Toney fight is like looking through a spyglass to another time and place. When he thwack-thwack-thwacks to the belly and head of an opponent with his back to the ropes it’s a style of bygone warriors like Archie Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott. Toney is the fistic equivalent of snare drum, sax, and slide trombone. He can thump a guy with hooks to the ribs and rip him underneath with double uppercuts in bursts like loud jazzy riffs. He can land a jolting uppercut and then lean towards the corner to make a face at his opponent’s trainer Joe Goosen. He can hop and bounce on one leg a bit only to hit his foe with a shot from the other side, all while mugging for a friend in the crowd.

Toney is a rough wise-ass but a lovable one. His clowning even draws a grin from Ref. Jay Nady at the end of the eighth and they touch gloves before Toney goes to his stool in the corner.

In the ninth Guinn is starting to whither a bit and he holds on rather than taking the Toney challenge and fighting in close some more. When Guinn clinches and then steps away he begins jabbing and puts some distance between them. But the quick-handed Toney can score from the outside too, demonstrating how jabbing is more about timing than reach.
Heavyweights like the recently victorious Wladimir Klitschko can be impressive throwing lance-like one-twos that crashed against the face of Samuel Peter but Toney rarely throws such a rudimentary combination.

Dominick Guinn did fight better against Toney than he has in his last two outings. Granted, Guinn was utterly seduced into trading in close with the craftsman like Toney, but how much of that was to prove to himself that he could handle the pressure of trading with a real ring great and how much was purely a failure in fight plan isn’t clear. From here Guinn can either fade away with the odd distinction of being a former prospect, a tragic Never-Was; or he can continue improving as he already has under the guidance of boxing guru Joe Goosen. Though Guinn won no more than three rounds all night—this writer gave him the first easily—he did land numerous hard left hooks and a clean steely jab that will work well in the current heavyweight climate.

James Toney ends up with the unanimous decision on the night and tells Showtime’s Jim Gray he’ll fight any and everyone including the announcer himself. After the steroid suspension and the injuries before that, Toney wants to stay active now, drop some weight and hopes to fight again as soon as November. Whether James Toney actually pursues his personal war on obesity or not clearly doesn’t seem to affect the fact that the Detroit pug’s war on heavyweights will continue and thankfully we’ll get to watch.

No Byrd-watching Allowed

I caught only the last few seconds of the Chris Byrd-Davryl Williamson fight before watching the entire Toney-Guinn fight on Showtime 2 or Pacific or channel three-forty-something after the pay-per-view. From what I heard about it I was correct in catching Kanye West’s performance on SNL rather than quickly flipping to Showtime to catch the last couple uninspired rounds. Saw Chris Byrd explain to Jim Gray how the Byrd Man was sort of due for a boring fight after his recent scorchers against Golota and McCline in which he risked life and limb by slugging.

OK, when our heavyweight champions have to spin their past performances like White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan word-parsing past statements we’re looking at a weak ass division. There’s no spinning or softening up a bolt to the chin that knocks loose a tooth; no diluting a stream of fresh blood running down the throat after a crumpling left jab breaks a nose. Such dramatic symptoms of the sweet science aren’t usually visible where a Chris Byrd fight took place, and in the post fight interviews there wasn’t a mark on either Byrd’s or Williamson’s face. Sadly, heavyweight champ Chris Byrd isn’t a bruiser and he suffers for it from the crowd. When he is shown on arena monitors between rounds during the Toney fight you can’t help but feel bad for him, seeing his pained smile and his half-hearted finger gesture of Number One as he gets booed some more by the crowd.

But black eyes and busted lips or not, the win over Williamson does leave Chris Byrd with his IBF Title, a bauble James Toney might be interested in. Add to that the turf war of Toney’s Detroit versus Byrd’s Flint and you have a Battle for all the Marbles in Michigan. And I’d much rather see Toney-Byrd than Wladimir Klitschko versus anyone.

Finally, since I started with squat and stubby heavyweights, the Brian Minto-Vinny Maddalone bout was a messy and brutal dog-fight. On a night that Showtime featured heavyweights it was HBO’s pay-per-view that landed the unlimited class’ blood sport appetizer to Tarver-Jones 3, a Main Event Antonio Tarver himself likened to a chess match.

And yes, you counted correctly, that was fifteen straight left hands, mostly hooks, landed in about 7 seconds by heavyweight Brian Minto in the final moments of his bout versus Vinny Maddalone on the Tarver-Jones 3 pay-per-view. The one handed barrage from the stubby armed Minto prompted referee James Warring to step in and stop the bloodletting at 1:21 of the seventh round. In victory, the motivated and confident Brian Minto showed he’s ready for the more skilled heavyweights of the division in his next outing. Brian Minto versus Dominick Guinn, anyone?

Contact Alex Pierpaoli with comments or questions at: alex@kofantasyboxing.com
Visit Alex Pierpaoli’s sites: PierpaoliBoxing.com & KOFantasyBoxing.com.
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